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March 14-20, 2007

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Ask Sydney

This advice column is penned by a Sonoma County resident and our new weekly sage. Go ahead! Ask her anything.

Dear Sydney, my mother and I are trying to reestablish a relationship following estrangement. She's an alcoholic, and one of the last times we were together, she drank a great deal and was pretty abusive. I've asked her to visit in the Bay Area and don't want to repeat this scene. On the other hand, my mother is an old and frail woman and I do not want to patronize her by saying "no drinking." Nor do I want to antagonize her just as we're trying to find some common, if admittedly superficial, ground again.--Maternal Worries

Dear Mat: Even if you tell your mother that you don't want her to drink, if she's a practicing alcoholic, chances are she will anyway. She won't be able to help herself. This does not mean that you are not justified in having clear boundaries in regards to what you are willing to subject yourself to, but you are not in control of your mother's drinking. It's neither your fault nor your responsibility. In fact, you can count on the fact that she will quite probably drink, no matter what you do. If this seems like something you don't want to take on, then don't invite to her visit.

The best thing you can do if you want to proceed with this reunion (and it seems as if you genuinely do) is go into the situation prepared to protect yourself. If things begin to go in a direction that feels abusive to you, make sure you can leave. Take your own car. Don't share a room in the hotel. Have an escape route. Another good trick is to bring someone with you whom you trust for emotional support and to help negotiate your leave-taking, should that be necessary. And above all, try not to beat yourself up about this. Your emotional reaction to your mother's drinking and subsequent behavior is to be expected. If you are interested in finding out more about alcohol related co-dependencies, Al-Anon is a great resource, and there are meetings all over the place. They're in the phone book.

Dear Sydney, I'm hoping you can offer some advice on a very delicate situation. My friend just told me that she is pregnant from a brief relationship that she recently broke off. Her boyfriend moved to another state to go to college, and they decided to end their relationship because it wasn't really going anywhere. Now she says she's not going to tell him, that she doesn't want any money from him (she has a pretty decent job), that she doesn't even like him that much and that this is her baby. Is this OK? I'm thinking not.--Worried

Dear Worried: Maybe he doesn't even want to know. If he's just left town for college, chances are this is the last thing he's going to want to hear about. Well, too bad for him. The fact that she is the one carrying the baby does not change the fact that this young man has paternity rights and responsibilities. Though the father may not want anything to do with the baby (his loss), it is still imperative that he be able to decide for himself. If she doesn't tell him, the odds are that at some point he will find out anyway, and when he does, he will have every right to feel hurt and outraged that he was not given a chance to participate in the life of his own child. The exception to this would be if the guy is super-sketchy or abusive in some way. Every mother has the right to protect herself and her child. But based on what you say here, it seems like your friend needs to face the fact that she is going to have to be more involved with this guy than she wants to. Big bummer, there's no denying it. But if she wants to have a baby without a father attached to the other end, then she should consider artificial insemination next time. It's not that expensive and there are no strings attached.

Dear Sydney, I'm a person with a lot of ideas. My problem is, I can't decide which one to do, or if I do, I only really stick with it for a little while. I have this feeling that I want to do something great, but I'm interested in so many things, it's hard to stick with one for long. I dabble in different thing but inevitably feel like the new project just isn't quite cool enough or I'm just not that great at it. I guess sometimes so much freedom is overwhelming. Any suggestions?--Flighty

Dear Flighty: Never take good ideas for granted. This is a skill to be proud of and one to foster. Take a moment to consider how wonderful it is that you are so excited by the world around you, that you have a flow of vibrant concepts moving through your head. It's hard to know when to begin, however, and when to give up, how to tell failure from your own rising disinterest and how to have faith in yourself, when no one else seems to be paying any attention. In order to help you keep the faith and the focus, it could be useful for you to develop some sort of support system. See if you can pull together a group of friends who are also busy following through with their own great ideas, people you can talk to on a regular basis. It's not that your support group will have all the answers; in fact, if you are an independent thinker, you will probably think most of their advice sucks. But what they can do for you is keep you from beating yourself up for no reason, and from losing hope. When all you have is an audience of one, it's easy to get discouraged and doubtful. Collaboration will help you stay focused and help keep your energy up.

No question too big, too small or too off-the-wall. Ask Sydney.